Hawaii was under a tsunami watch last night, at least on television. The Hawaii Five-0 version was fairly close to the real thing, with one major exception.

The televised tsunami watch showed people being evacuated from the areas near the sea, sand bags around buildings, and people rushing to pick up children and buy groceries. The most recent actual tsunami warning was about a year ago: February 27, 2010. The watch was upgraded to a warning overnight so people weren’t collecting children from school. However, I was one of the people in the grocery store line at 3 am (yes, I’ve since stocked up on supplies – I now have a “tsunami shelf”).

We had been at a party the night before and missed the evening news that the watch might be upgraded. But I got an emergency text from the University of Hawaii at 3 am when it became a warning. Not long after the sirens began hourly warnings. We live outside the evacuation zone but I got up anyway to see what was going on. I thought we were low on both coffee and toilet paper, so I walked next door to Safeway. The lot was full of cars. It looked like a busy Saturday instead of the middle of the night. However, no one was rushing or running or honking horns. Everyone was bent on the same task: stock up on batteries and groceries and head to higher ground.

Inside, the check out lines snaked through the store. No one rushed with carts, people were friendly and chatted in line. A portable radio propped at the end of one of the aisles provided weather updates. Most people seemed concerned about having enough rice. The harried clerks were ever-friendly in the unending onslaught, working as fast as possible to get folks on their way.

I was in Kailua, on Oahu’s windward side. On the other side of the island, Waikiki was a different experience. Hawaii hotels used what is called a “vertical evacuation,” moving guests to floors higher than third. If you were in Waikiki for last year’s tsunami watch, I’d be interested in hearing your experiences.

News reports in the New York Times from Kauai and the Wall Street Journal from Hawaii Island both commented on the lack of panic or short tempers at the time. I’m amused that the sight of people panicking last night on television seemed so un-Hawaii to me. Hawaii Five-0 does a great job of incorporating local culture, and included much accurate information about tsunamis in the show script. I guess it would probably look odd to mainlanders to have people remain so calm when tsunami evacuation sirens are sounding. When you live on an island, you respect the power of the ocean and take reasonable precautions but there’s no need to rush — the warning was hours ahead of the anticipated tsunami arrival


  1. I remember that day, just over a month after we moved here. People at the grocery store on Kauai were pretty chill also but it was still a pretty crazy day for me. We kept our eyes on the TV all day!

  2. How could I forget "Tsunami Saturday"!  I got more calls from worried friends & family that day than I ever have on even my birthday!  Living on the beach on the North Shore, we had to evacuate our apartment by 8am…so we packed all the "essentials" some food, water, booze, wedding album, etc – all the important stuff, haha!   We took off for Schofield Barracks since my husband works there, then around the time the Tsunami was supposed to arrive we parked on Kam Hwy, overlooking the north shore beaches to try to see any signs of it (nothing!) We waited & waited until we got word that roads were open.  Finally around 3pm we got back home and all went to the beach.  The only things I noticed was the tide would be very high then very low, but that's about it.  We had friends visiting from California that weekend…so we are all proud to say we are Tsunami Survivors!

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